Premier League confirms crowds may not be allowed for a year

Protocols agreed on enable socially distant training but further stages will prove harder

Behind closed doors matches could continue for at least a year in the Premier League. Photo: Ashley Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

Behind closed doors matches could continue for at least a year in the Premier League. Photo: Ashley Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

 

The Premier League has confirmed that fans may not be able to return to matches for a year, even if Project Restart is successful.

Another step towards the resumption of the 2019-20 season was approved by the league’s 20 clubs on Monday as they unanimously voted through a medical protocol that will allow players to resume training, albeit with social distancing, from Tuesday.

A second, crucial, protocol on contact training is set to be put to clubs next week. The third stage would see matches resume behind closed doors.

The date of any first fixture looks to have been moved back, perhaps to the end of June, even as the push to restart gathers pace. But whenever the resumption comes about, the league’s medical director Mark Gillett admitted that fans would be missing from grounds for some time.

“I’ve sat on the DCMS group [directing the return of elite sport] with a very high level of medical input from Public Health England and the chief medical officers department”, he said.

Not going to change

“They’ve made it very clear that the social situation, the public health situation, is not going to change over the next six to 12 months.

“Regardless of the timing of this type of conversation we’re going to be looking to make the same kind of cultural changes … whether we have this conversation now or at any point this year. It is important that people understand that.”

The shareholders’ meeting on Monday agreed a plan Gillett described as making “safety in the working environment key at every single stage”. It would allow players to return to training in small groups, but they would be forced to maintain social distancing. Cars would be parked three bays apart, communal areas at training grounds closed off and sessions limited to 75 minutes maximum.

The protocols were put to a vote after weeks of preparation and some dissent from club doctors and players. It was acknowledged at the meeting that the stages to come will prove to be more difficult, with much still to be done.

Players in particular will need to be convinced. While the Bundesliga made a successful return behind closed doors this past weekend, Germany is at a different stage in dealing with the crisis. On Sunday Germany had 589 new confirmed cases of the virus. In the UK that figure was 3,534.

“Phase one is social-distancing individual training with a coach; that’s no problem, that’s like going to the park,” Watford’s captain, Troy Deeney, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain. “Phase two will be next week: six days’ worth of training, three to six people training together with contact, and then six days after that you’re going into 11 v 11 and you can’t social distance with 11 v 11.

“I’m desperate to play football, it’s my job, I’ve got the best job in the world. But there has to be clear and safe measures for everybody, not just me. I saw Tammy Abraham [of Chelsea] say his dad has asthma and he lives with him so he has concerns.

Across the board

“It’s not just players at the bottom [of the table] who are trying to stay in the league, it’s concerns right across the board. I have had a lot of texts from players who are worried about coming out and speaking. I would say 98 per cent are very much aware that phase one is very good. I would say 65-70 per cent of people are concerned with phase two. I’d say even higher after that.”

The league said in a statement: “This first stage has been agreed in consultation with players, managers, Premier League club doctors, independent experts and the government. Strict medical protocols of the highest standard will ensure everyone returns to training in the safest environment possible.

“The health and wellbeing of all participants is the Premier League’s priority, and the safe return to training is a step-by-step process. Full consultation will now continue with players, managers, clubs, the PFA and LMA as protocols for full-contact training are developed.”

In a sign of the practices that will be in place, Newcastle said regarding their return: “All equipment - including balls, corner flags, cones, goalposts, GPS units, boots and gloves - will be regularly disinfected and players will wear protective snoods on their faces at all times.” – Guardian

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